LONDON: The first 50 National Health Service (NHS) hospitals are gearing up for what the UK government has described as the biggest immunisation programme in history as the first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 arrived at secure locations in the country from neighbouring Belgium this weekend.Frontline healthcare staff, people over the age of 80 and care home workers will be among the first to get the vaccine as part of Phase 1 of the programme from Tuesday, which was approved for rollout by the UK’s independent regulator earlier this week.The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) had declared the jab, which claims to offer up to 95 per cent protection against COVID-19, is safe for human use against the novel coronavirus after rigorous checks.This coming week will be an historic moment as we begin vaccination against COVID-19, said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.I urge everybody to play their part to suppress this virus and follow the local restrictions to protect the NHS while they carry out this crucial work, he said.The minister added that the government is doing everything it could to overcome “significant challenges” to ensure care home residents are vaccinated as soon as possible after they were also cleared for Phase 1 by the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), as those at the highest risk of death from the deadly virus.The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that NHS staff are working through the weekend for the first vaccinations to take place from Tuesday across 50 shortlisted hubs in the first wave.More hospitals will start vaccinating over the coming weeks and months as the programme ramps up.Patients aged 80 and above who are already attending hospital as an outpatient, and those who are being discharged home after a hospital stay, will be among the first to receive the “life-saving jab”. Hospitals will also begin inviting over 80s in for a jab and work with care home providers to book their staff in to vaccination clinics.Some media reports indicate that Queen Elizabeth II, 94, and her 99-year-old husband, Prince Philip, are likely to be among this group.
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